Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit ferociously counter-attacked those who have tried to undermine law enforcement following his decision last Thursday to issue an indictment against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“I hear threats, lies and baseless mudslinging,” against law enforcement, he told a conference of prosecutors in Eilat on Tuesday night. “It’s a disgrace.”
Since his indictment decision, Netanyahu has lashed out at State Attorney Shai Nitzan and the lead prosecutor for the prime minister’s cases, Liat Ben-Ari, and demanded that someone needs to “investigate the investigators.”
Following the prime minister’s attack, a series of Likud officials have also lambasted law enforcement, and a demonstration Tuesday night broadcast messages highly critical of the state prosecution.
Mandelblit said that Nitzan and Ben-Ari have devoted their lives to serving the state, focused only on the rule of law and the public good. “It is unconscionable,” he said, that the two officials now must travel everywhere with bodyguards simply for doing their job to follow up on evidence of public corruption by Netanyahu.
Nitzan himself called Netanyahu’s attack on the indictment decision “disappointing,” but that he had “received hundreds of WhatsApp messages in support.”
He said that he “slept much better after the decision,” and that it was not unexpected after Netanyahu attacked him by name when the initial indictment decision was announced in February.
Nitzan also said that he was not against Netanyahu, and that before the decision – which some friends demanded he make sooner – he always responded that “if you want a different prime minister, you can go vote. I am not making the decision based on ideological or political considerations.”
Mandelblit also swiveled to show respect to Netanyahu since he is still the country’s prime minister.
He noted that he issued an opinion on Monday that rejected all the arguments for an immediate disqualification of Netanyahu.
Until Netanyahu is legally no longer the prime minister, Mandelblit said this means that the prosecution and the legal advisers in the Attorney-General’s Office are still bound to work on his behalf in all areas involving state business.
In his legal opinion issued on Monday, Mandelblit first said that Netanyahu being a transitional prime minister without a Knesset has no bearing on forcing him out immediately.
He cited the Knesset law that says if a government is forced to be dissolved or a prime minister is forced to resign, the prime minister at the time remains the caretaker prime minister.
In other words, even if Netanyahu were forced out, he would essentially be the caretaker for himself.
Second, he ruled that Netanyahu cannot be declared incompetent to carry out his duties merely by the legal establishment as a result of an indictment. Rather, he said this is a political/public sector question.
Furthermore, Mandelblit said that the statutory law on the issue does not get into deep detail about what circumstances lead to a prime minister being declared incompetent.
However overall, the purpose of the law’s incompetence provisions applied to a situation where the prime minister physically or mentally could not carry out his duties, which he implied is not the case with even a harsh corruption indictment.
Third, Mandelblit said he would not rule on whether Netanyahu can be disqualified from forming a new government since the question is hypothetical, with no government expected to be formed by Netanyahu in the near future.
Regarding whether Netanyahu needs to drop his additional ministerial portfolios – health minister, social welfare minister, Diaspora minister and acting agricultural minister – Mandelblit said he was still examining the issue.
It appears the attorney-general is hoping that Netanyahu will resign these posts so that he does not need to rule on the issue.
All of these issues could arrive at the High Court of Justice, but Mandelblit’s view will hold significant weight.
The Movement for Quality Government in Israel requested on Sunday that the High Court fire Netanyahu for one of the above reasons.
The High Court said that the petition had been filed prematurely, but that it could be refiled once Mandelblit had expressed an opinion.